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What may not be asked in a job interview?


  • Job seeking

The smoothness of the recruitment process has a significant impact on the company’s reputation, the employer image and whether the employer will continue to get good jobseekers to work for the company. Poor recruitment experiences can include inappropriate job interview questions. What can such inappropriate job interview questions be, for example? What to do if you experience discrimination in your job search?

Businesses spend substantial sums of money marketing themselves to potential consumers. Unfortunately, recruitment processes are often not seen as part of this brand building package, nor are jobseekers seen as potential customers.

In this article, we review a few of the different forms of discrimination that emerge in job interviews. 

The Finnish Non-discrimination Act provides for a prohibition of discrimination. No one may be discriminated against on the basis of;

  • Age
  • Origin
  • Nationality
  • Language
  • Religion
  • Belief
  • Opinion
  • Political activity
  • Trade union activity
  • Family relationships
  • Health status
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • or other personal characteristics

Asking about the family in a job interview

“When are you planning to have children?”

“You are not going to take any paternity leave, are you?”

According to the Finnish Act on Equality between Women and Men, jobseekers may not be placed in a different position on the basis of parenthood or family maintenance obligations.  Family matters (family relationships or marital status) may not be asked about in an informal discussion or in a way that responding is “voluntary” for the employee. If the employer asks about the family situation in the interview, the employer will have a burden of proof later that there is no discrimination based on gender and the employee’s response has not influenced the selection decision.

It should be noted, however, that the Equality Act does not restrict the employer’s right to select the person the employer considers best for the position. The purpose of the Act is to prevent discrimination based on gender in a situation where a less competent person would be selected for the position based on gender. In addition, in a situation where the work involves a long posting abroad, it may be appropriate to ask about family, for example, for a child’s daycare place.

Questions and discrimination related to age in job search

“Otherwise, you would be suitable, but we’re looking for a youthful addition to our youthful team.”

“You didn’t have your age on the resume.”

At a time when there is a constant debate in society about the deterioration of the dependency ratio and the desire to raise retirement ages, many are experiencing age discrimination in working life. Our members, especially those working in the field of technology, have had experiences of how people in their forties are already considered “far behind”. Some have been told quite directly in a job interview that they would be happy to hire if the member was ten years younger.

Here again, we come to the problem of seeking a 25-year-old experienced professional with many decades of work experience and skills.

Age discrimination can be experienced by people of all ages. For example, a young woman may not be hired because the employer is worried about the cost of family leave. A man in his fifties may be considered a change-resistant fogey even if he is the most competent to use the new software the employer needs.

The images created by stereotypes affect many people’s job search, and employers’ representatives are not always aware of their own prejudices when a jobseeker who is over middle age, for example, comes to a job interview.

In the job search phase, age discrimination is less likely to come directly to the employee’s attention. If the people in charge of recruitment have age-related prejudices, they will eliminate those unsuitable for the position, in their opinion, already in the first round.

Ethnic background in job search

There should be no unreasonable language proficiency requirements for a position if a certain language proficiency is not necessary in the position. For example, proficiency in the Finnish language at the mother tongue level could be questioned if the working language of a national export company is English.

The employer may also have prejudices, for example, about a jobseeker who has a darker skin colour than the average Finn and a foreign-sounding name. However, the jobseeker may be a person born in Finland who speaks Finnish as his or her mother tongue and who is not employed only because of the employer’s own preconceptions.

What to do if you experience discrimination in your job search?

In the job interview, it is allowed to ask questions that are necessary from the perspective of the position applied for. The questions are used to assess the jobseeker’s suitability and competence for the position. Health-related information may also be asked if it has an impact from work duties’ point of view.

Unfortunately, inappropriate questions in a job interview situation are difficult to prove. To better understand the extent of the phenomenon, we hope that our members will report any discrimination they face in a job interview situation to either the Equality Ombudsman (gender discrimination), the occupational safety and health authority (other discrimination) or our legal employment counselling.

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